Friday, August 12, 2011

Day Two On The Pacific Crest Trail

DAY TWO: Sunday, July 31

Got up early this morning eager to hit the trail. Because we had the benefit of starting our trek from the comfort of Todd Thompson's cabin yesterday morning, this is our first full day from start to finish on the trail.
As a practical exercise, it is our first experience stepping through what we expect to be a morning routine: breakfast, tents down, all gear repacked, morning constitutional, water supplies replenished, energy supplies for the day easily accessible....

As with any first time experience, there are lots of "dos" and "re-dos". Is my pack as tight as it can be? Is my water topped off and did I distribute it evenly in my pack? Is the bear cannister positioned where it will be most comfortable on my back? Where did I put my walking stick? Sun screen and mosquito repellent on? Leave no trace.

We leave our accommodations near Gilmore Lake by 9:30 as the sun is already beginning to warm the air and the mosquitos are on the hunt. We have seen almost no wildlife on the trail except a rare sighting of an occasional bird or marmot. So, how can there be so many mosquitos with so little to feed on? With the heavy and late snow falls this year and the delayed spring, the mosquitos are birthing late and are in survival mode. That might explain the constant swarms around us---even hundreds perched on our packs as we hike, waiting for an injection/extraction opportunity.

The only natural defenses seem to be a stiff breeze or the cold air surrounding us as we hike across snow. And did I mention real estate? Apparently, mosquitos didn't get the memo re: location, location, location. Based on the number of bites (I stopped counting at 200) in places where there shouldn't be bites, let's just say mosquitos are not picky eaters. Granted it is anecdotal evidence from a limited sample of one using a small spade in the forest. But I can attest to a validated research finding suggesting an untapped market niche for TP infused with "Essence of Off"!

Leaving Gilmore Lake, we hit a steady uphill with several large snow fields to cross. If the slope faces north, you can count on snow. Navigating across even narrow stretches of snow is a challenge with a pack on your back. But after losing the trail too easily east of Aloha Lake yesterday, we are tuning in much more closely to where the trail should continue on the other side of each patch of snow. Although we only lost the trail briefly on the approach to Dick's Pass (elevation 9,380 feet) this morning, it has taken us over three hours to hike up through the pass and back down to Dick's Lake (elevation 8,360 feet).

The relatively easy hike on the "down" slope leaving Dick's Pass has made the decision easy to pass Dick's Lake by, opting instead to pump water at the north end of Fontinillis Lake, about 1.5 miles further on. We are celebrating that decision on two fronts: the mosquitos have totally disappeared and Fontinillis Lake is strikingly picturesque, beautifully set amidst lots of large boulders all along the shoreline.

After replenishing our water and recharging with GORP, energy bars and gels, Middle Velma Lake is our next landmark, which we should reach by 3:15. Not needing to pump water so soon after Fontinillis Lake, we are pressing on to Fipps Creek as our next water stop (and the last water before we get to Richardson Lake).

Looking at the map, the trail ahead to all the way to Richardson Lake is looking very manageable with only a slight elevation change from 7,950 feet to 8,100 feet, then back down to 7,850 feet. How hard could that be, right? But sometimes contour lines can be deceiving. What a surprise to find a convincing "up" slope soon after leaving Middle Velma Lake---exhausting is a better word. Also we had anticipated more granite by this time based on the map indications of a "dry" trail for several miles. Instead, the forest is thick, with large trees all around us. Fortunately, the "up" leaving Middle Velma was short-lived and we are once again on an easy "down" all the way to Fipps Creek.

One thing about "downs" is there will invariably be an "up" on the other side. Sure enough, after pumping water at Fipps Creek, the climb out is tough. We stopped just long enough to toss down some quick calories and plenty of water to fuel our escape. Now the long flat stretch approaching the trail split between the PCT and the Lake Genevieve Trail feels pretty good. But our crew of five are all feeling the fatigue of the ups and down of the trail---not to mention several exciting stream crossings. It is already nearly 6:30 and hunger is nagging at us.

So, although our hoped for camping spot at Richardson Lake is only about three miles away (which translates to about 1.5 - 2.0 hours, assuming no unknown obstacles), we have decided to stop for the night, once again a bit shy of the day's objective. After a quick camp set up and dinner---I'm having a double order of lasagna, by the way---we are now in our tents at 8:30, glad to be prone and away from the mosquitos, which have been swarming around us most of the day.

We covered 12 miles today and are satisfied with our effort. But we're looking forward to making up some miles tomorrow if we can, hopefully with an earlier start and a kinder trail. Tomorrow we will be leaving Desolation Wilderness, optimistic that we won't be going from desolation to despair....


  1. Hi Bill,
    Thanks for sharing your experience with us. The pictures are breathtaking. I'm not a trekker myself, so it's nice to get this taste of the outdoors vicariously.

  2. Wow. This is amazing, Bill! This was wonderful to read, and your photos are gorgeous. What a lucky group to have experienced all this! Quite amazing.

  3. Thanks, Barbara and Nancy. Glad you enjoyed the read. If nothing else, it will be a memoire of the trek to help me remember when I get really old....